BISHOP MONTGOMERY, THE MISSIONARY

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Bishop Montgomery (1847-1932)

The Rt Rev. Henry Hutchinson Montgomery, KCMG (3 October 1847, Cawnpore – 25 November 1932, Moville), was an Anglican bishop, a missionary and author in the last part of the 19th century and the very start of the 20th. Arriving in 1889 at the height of the British Empire, his family fell 'under the spell of the charm and simplicity of colonial life', and was 'ideally happy' in Tasmania. Montgomery's infectious enthusiasm and organisational skills resulted in unparalleled expansion of the church.

He was born in 1847 at Cawnpore, India, the second son of the colonial administrator Robert Montgomery, Lieutenant Governor of the Punjab. The Montgomerys were an Ulster-Scots gentry family from Inishowen in the north of County Donegal in Ulster. Henry was educated at Harrow School and Trinity College, Cambridge. Writing on 16 March 1944, G. M. Trevelyan observed that Montgomery was one of the few people ever to have jumped up the college steps in one bound.

Ordained a deacon in 1871 and made a priest in 1872, Montgomery took curacies at Hurstpierpoint and St. Margaret's, Westminster. The Archdeacon at Westminster was Frederic William Farrar. Montgomery became engaged to Farrar's daughter Maud when she was 14 and they married two years later: one of their five sons was Field Marshal The 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, Monty.

In 1879 he was appointed Vicar of St Mark's Kennington. From here he was appointed to be Lord Bishop of Tasmania in 1889, where he nearly doubled the number of churches in the diocese.

Montgomery believed that the Church had to witness to a high moral standard in a particularly corrupt society. He thus opposed George Adams, gambling and drinking, although not himself a total abstainer. He argued for Church instruction in schools, the revival of the Sunday School movement and the strengthening of church schools.

Above all he saw himself as a missionary bishop. A 'bush bishop', he enjoyed tramping around the west coast, and personally conducted a 'Bush Sunday School' by correspondence. He wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1901: 'It is because the work is all Missionary here that I love it so. Great questions such as Education, Temperance, Social problems between classes, come to me as duties. Missionary questions come to me as joys'. His vision outdistanced Tasmania.

In 1901 he was recalled to Britain to be secretary of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. In 1905 he was appointed Prelate of the Order of St Michael and St George; and was raised to the rank of Knight Commander in the 1928 King's Birthday Honours.

In 1887 he inherited New Park, his father's country house and estate, at Moville in Inishowen, County Donegal. Described in his Times obituary as a man "always young in enthusiasm and open vision", he died on 25 November 1932 and was buried in Moville churchyard.

As mentioned above, he was father of the World War II hero "Monty". Other descendants include Canadian author Charles Montgomery, who wrote a 2004 travel memoir in the steps of his great-grandfather, The Last Heathen: Encounters with Ghosts and Ancestors in Melanesia.


Bishop Montgomery and the Cathedral Chancel

One of the Bishop's first acts was to raise money for the building of the cathedral chancel. A large meeting was held in the town hall to collect £10,000. Although Tasmania in those early days was in a very flourishing condition, many were quite hopeless about raising such a large sum. There was only one thing to say, “It has to be done,” and done it was. The stone was laid. Children came from all over the diocese and presented the money they had collected, £800, through delegates, the procession being led by the bishop’s eldest son. They came again to the consecration in 1894 and presented another £400. But before this an awful crash of banks upset all the bishop’s calculations. Eleven banks broke in Melbourne in a few days and one of the four Tasmanian banks.

Life seemed to stand still. For the bishop, who felt responsible for his clergy and their work, the anxieties were terrible. Would they live through it? They did, and were the better for it. “It forced us all to live as cheaply as possible.” The bishop’s wife, to her husband’s delight, was spoken of as the worst dressed lady in Hobart. “We put down horses, carriage, gardener, everything we could, and devoted the surplus to the diocese. In one year we gave up £300 of our income. Of course it drew us all very closely together, but I trust I may be spared such an ordeal again; it made me very thin!”

But for this there would have been no difficulty about collecting the whole of the £10,000. £2,400 were still needed and a long list of wealthy Tasmanians living in Australia and elsewhere were to be approached. The crash ruined these men and the last sum had to be financed. The bishop got some sixteen men to guarantee interest, whilst he guaranteed twice as much as anyone else. In 1903, eighteen months after the bishop’s departure from the diocese, the debt was down to £150, due largely to the generous efforts of his friend, Dean Kite. The beautiful chancel when completed was a great joy to Bishop Montgomery. As he passed by it in the darkest days he would murmur, “Never mind; it is up, it is up.”